THOUGHT CENTER > Blog > Access Controls

How to Design an Access Control Plan

September 27, 2023

Too busy to read? Here’s a summary:

  • It's vital to thoroughly assess your organization’s distinct layout and security requirements before investing in any particular access control system.
  • The two most important decisions made when building an access control system are the credentials the system will use to identify individuals and the policies the system will use to assign privileges to those credentials.
  • Work with experienced access control installers to ensure that your access control system will be suited to your needs, built without error, and able to provide reliable, top-notch entry management and security.

An access control system is a combination of hardware and software components that manage, identify, and control user access within a property. In other words, an access control system dictates who can enter, when, and where.

In this article, we'll guide you step-by-step through the process of building a reliable and convenient access control system.

Keep on reading to unlock the secrets.

How to Build an Access Control System

A lot of decision-making goes into developing commercial-grade access control systems.

The two most important decisions involve the credentials your system will use to identify users, and the approach or policy administrators will use to assign privileges to identified users.

Selecting Credentials

An access control credential is a physical or digital entity that an individual presents for passage through an access point. This credential, when presented to the corresponding access control door reader, contains identifying data for authentication.

Data associated with authentic credentials is then transmitted to the system’s database or control panel, where it’s cross-checked against site authorization rules. Access control credentials can range from traditional physical items, like keys or cards, to more modern solutions, like biometrics or mobile-based credentials.

Card and Tag-Based Credential Systems

Card and Tag-Based Credential Systems

Magnetic Stripe Cards

Also known as 'magstripe' cards, these contain a band of magnetic material embedded in the card. The data is read by swiping the card through a magnetic reader.

The stripe consists of tiny iron-based magnetic particles suspended in a plastic-like film. Each particle acts like a tiny bar magnet, storing data through north and south pole orientation.

The reader decodes this orientation as the card is swiped to extract relevant information.

Magnetic Stripe Card Benefits

Magnetic stripe cards are relatively cheap to produce and can be integrated easily into most systems. Commercial properties, especially those transitioning from non-digital systems or those with budget constraints, might find these cards an economical choice.

Additionally, sectors such as retail and hospitality, which require temporary and easily replaceable access credentials, can benefit from magstripe cards due to their straightforward issuance and replacement process.

Magnetic Stripe Card Limitations

These cards are prone to wear and tear as they require physical contact with the reader. The data can be easily cloned, making them vulnerable to security breaches. High-security zones or data-sensitive organizations might find these cards inadequate due to these vulnerabilities.

Proximity Cards

Proximity cards, or 'prox' cards, operate using radio frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) signals to communicate with a proximity card door reader. The card doesn’t need to touch the reader; it only needs to be close.

Most proximity cards consist of a coil and an IC (Integrated Circuit) sealed within the plastic. When the card is within the reader's range, it gets powered up by the reader's electromagnetic field. The coil then acts as an antenna and transmits the card's data wirelessly to the reader.

Benefits of Proximity Cards

Proximity cards offer a contactless means of entry, making them convenient and less prone to wear and tear. Commercial properties aiming to reduce physical touchpoints, especially in a post-pandemic world, find prox cards beneficial. Industrial sectors with environments that can cause card deterioration (like dust or moisture) can benefit from the durability of these cards.

Limitations of Proximity Cards

While more secure than magnetic stripe cards, they can still be cloned with specialized equipment. Thus, ultra-secure facilities or organizations managing highly sensitive data might require more advanced solutions.

Smart Cards

Smart cards contain a microprocessor chip that allows them to both store and process information. The chip communicates with a card reader using either contact (physical connectors on the card surface) or contactless (wireless signal technology) methods.

These are similar in size to standard cards, but they can store much more data. As a result, the very same smart card can be used as an ID card, an access control card, a financial transaction card, a storage space for personal medical information, and more.

Benefits of Smart Cards

Smart cards offer enhanced security by facilitating encryption and secure data storage. Financial sectors, R&D facilities, and any organization aiming to boost cybersecurity can immensely benefit from the encryption these cards can provide.

Limitations of Smart Cards

Their cost of implementation is higher than the other card-based systems, making them less attractive for small businesses or sectors with limited security budgets.

Biometric Credential Systems

Biometric credential systems assess unique biological traits to identify system users. Three of the most commonly required credentials in biometric systems are irises, fingerprints, and facial features.

Iris Scans

This method utilizes the unique patterns found in the iris, the colored ring around the pupil, for identification.

Every individual has a unique iris pattern. High-resolution cameras capture each person’s detailed pattern, and sophisticated algorithms analyze and store it as a digital template. When someone attempts to access a restricted area, the system then compares the newly captured iris pattern to patterns stored on a template.

Benefits of Iris Scans

The unique nature of the iris makes this system one of the most secure. High-security areas, such as research facilities, government buildings, and data centers, leverage iris scans for unparalleled security.

Limitations of Iris Scans

Iris scanning equipment can be quite expensive, possibly making it less feasible for small to medium-sized businesses. Moreover, employees and other stakeholders often have concerns about sharing such unique biological data.

Fingerprint Scans

One of the most common biometric methods of ID verification, fingerprint scans use the unique ridges and valleys found on an individual's fingertip.

The skin's surface on our fingertips has distinct patterns of ridges, loops, and whorls. These patterns are captured by optical, capacitive, and ultrasonic sensors. These systems then process this information, extracting features and storing them as a digital template for future reference.

During the identification stage of an access attempt, a fingerprint must be scanned and compared to the fingerprint data in storage.

Benefits of Fingerprint Scans

Fingerprint scans are a balance between security and cost. They're apt for office buildings, IT parks, or warehouses, ensuring authorized access without significant hardware costs.

Limitations of Fingerprint Scans

Fingerprints can change due to scars or aging, potentially leading to access issues. Moreover, in environments where workers might have dirt or grime on their hands, this method might prove problematic.

Facial Recognition

This identification method analyzes features of a person's face, like the distance between eyes or the shape of the chin.

During the access attempt process, cameras capture facial features and use software to identify specific facial data points. This newly scanned “facial signature” is then compared with stored templates for identification.

Benefits of Facial Recognition

Facial recognition offers contactless entry, making it suitable for hygienic environments like hospitals. Commercial properties with high footfalls, such as malls or large offices, can use facial recognition for swift access, enhancing user experience.

Limitations of Facial Recognition

Lighting conditions, facial obstructions (like masks or glasses), and changes in facial features can sometimes cause recognition errors. Sectors needing rapid and fail-proof access might find it challenging.

Mobile-Based Credential Systems

NFC (Near-Field Communication) Signal Technology

NFC allows a credential to communicate with a door reader when the two are close, usually within a few centimeters.

NFC technology operates at 13.56 MHz and allows for two-way communication, which distinguishes it from other RFID signal technologies and provides heightened encryption security. NFC signal technology can be embedded in both access cards and mobile phones.

Mobile devices with NFC capabilities can interact with NFC tags or other NFC-enabled devices. When two NFC-enabled devices are close, they create an electromagnetic radio frequency field for wireless data exchange.

Benefits of NFC

Commercial properties can integrate NFC with mobile apps, enhancing user convenience as most people carry smartphones. Retail sectors can benefit by allowing not just NFC access control but also integrating payment or loyalty systems.

Limitations of NFC

NFC requires both the user device and the system to be NFC-enabled, which might necessitate infrastructure upgrades.

Bluetooth Signal Technology

Devices with Bluetooth capabilities can connect and exchange data over a distance of about 10 meters.

Access control systems utilize Bluetooth to authenticate users by recognizing their devices, providing a seamless and contactless access solution.

Benefits of Bluetooth

Given the widespread use of Bluetooth in devices, commercial properties can offer seamless entry without the need for additional cards or tags. This is particularly useful in environments like hotels, where guests can use their phones as room keys.

Limitations of Bluetooth

The range of Bluetooth is more extensive than NFC, potentially causing security concerns if the system doesn't pinpoint the device's exact location. High-security sectors might find this range limitation a potential vulnerability.

Selecting Access Control Policies

After selecting appropriate credentials and compatible credential readers, develop a policy for assigning access privileges. The three most common policies for assigning privileges are known as discretionary, mandatory, and role-based access control. Many organizations use combinations of these methods depending on the security needs at different access points.

  • Discretionary Access Control (DAC): The owner or administrator has complete discretion to manage access privileges and share management rights with other users. DAC is often ideal for smaller businesses and organizations.
  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): RBAC assigns access based on a user's role in the organization. RBAC is a popular option for large businesses and organizations because it allows employees to be assigned access rights simultaneously (rather than individually).
  • Mandatory Access Control (MAC): MAC determines a user’s access privileges by assessing the user’s preset security level and comparing it to the security level requirement at any access point where the credential is presented. Mandatory access control is most commonly used in military installations and other settings where highly sensitive space and information must be strictly limited and centrally controlled.

Final Steps to Building an Access Control System

After determining the access control credentials and policies most suited to your needs, you’re ready to finish building your access control system.

Selecting an Access Control Brand and Model

Access control manufacturers offer an array of systems and devices with different features and price points. Select reputable manufacturers and compare their access control systems and devices to decide which systems have the most useful features for your organization’s particular security and entry management needs.

DMP Alarm

You can learn more about the most trustworthy access control manufacturers in the world by visiting their brand pages on the Mammoth Security website:

Checking Physical Infrastructure

Ensure your property has all the necessary physical components to support any access control system you install, including power backup systems.

Properties without power backups should consider locks that operate on batteries.


For commercial-grade access control, reach out to professional security system installers.


Employees and security personnel must understand how to operate the system efficiently. That’s why the friendly team at Mammoth Security provides free on-site training for every security system we install. We’ll teach your administrators how to navigate your system interface and make the best use of the features your access control system offers.

Regular Maintenance

Check for software updates to stay ahead of cybercriminals, and schedule periodic checks to make sure the system remains in peak condition.

Build an Access Control System With Mammoth Security

Our team at Mammoth Security stands ready to help steer your organization toward fortified and streamlined entry management and door control. We're committed to making sure you have the right security systems for your protection and that your systems are expertly installed for reliability, safety, and user convenience.

For a complimentary site assessment, just fill out the simple form below. We’ll reach out promptly to schedule your free consultation with a friendly security professional from our team.




Biometrics offers a higher security level than keycards, but biometric systems tend to be more expensive and invasive.

Absolutely! Most modern access control systems can seamlessly integrate with other security systems, enhancing their reliability and functionality all around.

It's recommended to review your system annually to make sure it aligns with current security standards and technologies.

Yes, always have a power backup and a data backup to ensure the uninterrupted functionality of your access control system.



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